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Oh the Himalaya!: Part III
Published on August 30, 2012 by guest author: Jennifer Johnston

Jennifer Johnston recently returned from vacationing in Nepal and Bhutan. For Part I of her experiences, click here, and for Part II, click here.

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My favorite spot in Kathmandu was the large stupa at Boudhanath. (See above). Hindus regularly go there to walk around it three times, give offerings, pray and spin the prayer wheels. They generally pray for others, not themselves. It was uplifting to be there under the bright blue sky. I felt light and surrounded by positive energy.

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Pictured above: the inviting entrance to Kopan Monastery. Sitting on a hill, Kopan provides a quiet respite from the cacophony of Kathmandu.

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Happiness is riding an elephant through the jungle for the first time, seeing male one-horned rhinos (which look like dinosaurs) and marveling at my own physical and mental strength to bushwhack through the jungle, wade across knee-deep muddy streams, pull leeches off my stomach and keep on smiling.

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I am grateful to Mala Kali, my five-year-old female pachyderm for a gorgeous journey through Chitwan National Park, just north of the Indian border.

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I loved my ox cart ride through the village, past huts made of bamboo and mud, and admired the ability of the Tharu people to live off of the jungle. I saw many water buffalo, chicken and goats. The amount of physical labor required by the women to care for their families and livestock was astonishing to me. This village had no landline telephones and got cable TV just a few months ago.

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Nepal is a land of great beauty, from the Himalayas in the north, to the fertile hills and valleys, to the jungle in the south. Currently Kathmandu is overcrowded and the residents struggle without a government, consistent access to electricity, clean water or public infrastructure. Air pollution hangs over Kathmandu Valley, but doesn't extend to the mountains or jungle. I made new friends and was touched by the kindness that I received during the whole journey. In every village, I was greated warmly by adorable, smiling children. I never felt unsafe while I traveled on my own. Asian culture is so much more communal than Western society, and I was never alone on my trip. Hotel owners sat and talked with me at dinner and my guides accompanied me everywhere. I became accustomed to seeing the elderly working alongside their families and babies on their mothers' backs. It was a great privilege to explore Nepal and Bhutan and be welcomed by strangers. I was sad to leave and also very appreciative of all that I was returning to - a career, my own clean condo (with abundant electricity and hot water), the beach and Western bathrooms.

Jennifer Johnston works for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a national non-profit fighting childhood obesity, and lives in Tampa, Fla.

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